The History of Booze

Beerlieve it or Not

As you sit back and quaff your favourite craft beer, here’s a little something for you to ruminate upon and it might also help you win a pub quiz! Beer has a very long history and it is one of the oldest things that we homo sapiens have been making, drinking and enjoying. Before wine or whiskey were even a distant dream, man was producing beer

As soon as we put down roots and stopped hunting and gathering, and started growing grains some 13,000 years ago, the natural phenomena of fermentation presented itself. Spontaneous fermentation due to air borne wild yeasts can occur in the majority of cereals that contain certain sugars, making it quite possible that drinks of a beery nature were independently being developed across the world as man cultivated cereal crops.

It is also possible that humans had observed this process in fallen fruits that ferment and noted the animals that subsequently ate them acting strangely - just another Friday night around the fruit tree! You can still see this phenomenon today, particularly with monkeys and elephants. A quick search using your preferred search engine will furnish you with hilarious evidence that we speak the truth.

It is probably very difficult for us to imagine just how critical the production and trade in beer was to ancient civilisations. Clearly beer is fairly important to us today, given the enormous growth in craft breweries worldwide, the amount of space in the supermarkets devoted to the delightful stuff and of course the explosion of internet delivery providers, like Beers of Europe. But if you were a worker back in the days of the pyramids, part of your pay would have been in beer. Try imagining how that would work today. Beer and the art of brewing was given its own goddess in Mesopotamia, Ninkasi. Not to mention Bacchus from Ancient Rome, Mbaba Mwana Wares, the Zulu Goddess from South Africa and countless others. Imagine whole religions based upon the worship of beer! From Sumeria, the written record shows that beer production spread throughout ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

 It has been argued (see sources) that together with bread, beer was the trigger for civilisation’s ability to develop technology and build great civilisations - and pyramids.

There is an important beer fact to be noted here, however, about the strength of the beer. We are not talking about a heavy alcohol content - a pyramid did not get built by a hung over work force. Water was not always safe to drink. We see adverts every day about the fact that millions of people today still do not have access to safe drinking water. We also know that humans must consume adequate liquid to function. Fermentation, as well as providing the joys and effects of alcohol, has the more significant benefit from an ancient civilisation perspective of being safe to drink which is more than could be said of the Nile or other untreated water sources.


Join us every month as we explore in more detail the history of beer and other alcoholic beverages, learning about how it has evolved over time and how it has shaped the history of mankind. If you miss an issue you can fill in the gaps on our website

The earliest written record that tells us about the deliberate production of beer, appears in the 5th millennium in ancient Sumia. The tablet above record the purchase of beer

(Picture taken from Wikipedia of Alulu beer receipt – This records a purchase of “best” beer from a brewer, c. 2050 BC from the Sumerian city of Umma in ancient Iraq.[1])


  1. Mirsky, Steve (May 2007). “Ale’s Well with the World”. Scientific American. Retrieved 4 November 2007.

  2.  Jump up  ^ Dornbusch, Horst (27 August 2006). “Beer: The Midwife of Civilization”. Assyrian International News Agency. Retrieved 4 November 2007.

  3.  Jump up  ^ Protz, Roger (2004). “The Complete Guide to World Beer”. “When people of the ancient world realised they could make bread and beer from grain, they stopped roaming and settled down to cultivate cereals in recognisable communities.”